COLUMN: July 14, 2016


FOR reasons which need not concern you it became clear to me that I needed a coffee table. Perhaps previously I had subconsciously considered I did not need one because I do not drink coffee.

But I think I decided a coffee table is one of those things adult people have and it would signify that I am a grown-up.

As is traditional, I went to a place and bought a flat pack coffee table, which I then transported home on the bus. As is also traditional, I had forgotten just how heavy flat pack furniture can be.

I am not saying it was a struggle, but it was one of the few warm days we have had this summer, and so by the time I got it home I looked as if I had been pacified by one of Boris Johnson’s German water cannons before being chased by a wolf.

I placed the flat pack box on the floor and changed my clothes into something cooler – a T-shirt and shorts – reasoning that I could get away with that as nobody else could see me. There was no point having a shower; I would only have to do it again afterwards.

During the third set of the men’s finals at Wimbledon, I put together an entire coffee table. I am not saying my achievement was greater than Andy Murray’s, but I will not stop you from saying that.

Then, as I stood up, I grazed my knee on my brand new coffee table, the fact of its existence apparently escaping me two seconds after I had spent 45 minutes constructing it.

“Ow,” I said out loud, “My word, this is quite an annoying turn of events.” I am paraphrasing. As Andy Murray kissed his trophy on my television, I hopped around the room for a bit, saying “Ooyah!” and similar things.

I went to the bathroom cabinet in search of a sticking plaster. I only had one left, which was about the size of a drinks coaster. I sighed, stuck it on my knee, pulled on some vaguely appropriate shoes, and went out to buy more plasters so that I would be prepared for my next minor accident.

I was uncomfortable in my skin. I do not want you to think I am a sort of David Niven character, immaculately dressed at all times, and whose bow ties do not have clips, but I would not like to go to a job interview dressed as I was on that trip, in T-shirt, shorts, and sockless shoes. I did not want anybody to think I was an Australian.

It would be OK, I told myself, just a quick trip to the shop around the corner. I would be home in five minutes. Only about four people would see me.

But when I reached the sliding doors of Little Tesco I found my way blocked. They did not swish open, even when I did my special Obi Wan Kenobi hand movement. I knocked desperately. An assistant appeared. “Sorry, the doors are broken. We’re closed. You’ll have to go to the one up the road.”

So I trudged up the road, beginning the one-mile journey to the only other nearby shop which both sold plasters and was open at that time on a Sunday.

I could not tell you if everybody walking past me was silently judging me, only because silent judging is silent. But I could feel their eyes on me. They looked at me as I look at people who go to the shop in their pyjamas.

All I know is that the journey from my Little Tesco to the other Little Tesco a mile away felt like one of those anxiety dreams people have about going to work in the nude. I expect it did not help that my beige shorts were roughly the same colour as my beige legs, so that from a distance I looked naked from the waist down.

And then I arrived at the shop and saw my reflection. I looked at myself in my T-shirt and shorts and sockless shoes, a big plaster over my left knee, and I realised that I had left the house dressed as an eight-year-old boy.

By the time I got home I was fraught. I showered, made a cup of tea, flopped on the sofa, and put my tea on the lamp table next to it. It was closer to me than the coffee table.

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